On a Harvard defense that featured four first-team All-Ivy selections from a championship squad, Zach Hodges was more destructive than any other, drawing double and triple teams from opposing fronts all season.
He was the focus of every game plan, keeping coaches/coordinators across the league up late reviewing another clip of game film, their weary eyes homed in on No. 99.
Before his Princeton squad held off host Harvard, 51-48, in triple overtime, Princeton coach Bob Surace said the 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound junior end from Atlanta “disrupts the game more than anyone else I have seen in my four years here — bats down passes, interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks, stops the run.”
On Monday, Hodges was presented the Asa S. Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, edging out Princeton tackle Caruan Reid.
Bushnell Cups are awarded to the league’s Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. Princeton quarterback Quinn Epperly won the offensive honors.
“I’m honored to have been chosen and recognized for this prestigious award and honor in our league,” said Hodges, the ninth Crimson player to receive a Cup, and fourth in as many seasons, following tailback Gino Gordon, defensive tackle Josue Ortiz, and quarterback Colton Chapple.
Epperly (a league-record 43 total touchdowns) earned the offensive nod over Brown tailback John Spooney.
Hodges already ranks fifth in school history with 18.5 sacks and is only two behind the all-time program leader (Chris Smith ’98, with 20.5). A two-time All-Ivy choice, Hodges ranked fifth in the country with four forced fumbles. Name a first-team All-American by College Sports Madness Monday, he also recovered three fumbles, including one for a 53-yard touchdown return at San Diego Sept. 21.
“To win a championship at any level, you need great players and more importantly great people,” said coach Tim Murphy, who guided the Crimson (9-1, 6-1) to their 15th Ivy League crown, sharing it with Princeton. “And Zach Hodges among so many great kids was our most valuable player.”
Hodges, who helped the Crimson boast the nation’s seventh-best rush defense (97.3 yards allowed per game), tied for the Ivy League lead with 6.5 sacks and was second with 11.5 tackles for a loss. He finished the year with 40 tackles, as he emerged as one of the better pass rushers in the nation.
Teammate Nnamdi Obukwelu, a 6-3, 265-pound senior defensive tackle out of Brockton via BC High, received the 75th annual George “Bulger” Lowe Award from the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston, as the best defensive player in New England. He will be honored at the Bob Whelan College Football Awards Night Jan. 9 at the Waltham Westin.
On Friday, I talked about the unusual road games some bigger teams were playing and how much I liked it. It didn’t turn out well for the visitors. UCLA lost at Missouri, Clemson lost at Arkansas, Marquette lost at Wisconsin, Kansas lost at Colorado, Cincinnati lost at New Mexico, and Virginia lost at Green Bay. Heck, Dayton even lost at Illinois State.
Hopefully, the results won’t change the strategy. We need good teams playing road games against good opponents. As far as we know, the NCAA tournament selection committee respects that and that’s a good thing.
Boise State: The Broncos are 8-0, the best start in school history. It’s not exactly a storied tradition and they haven’t played anyone, but they did get an NCAA bid last season and obviously will be a factor again. The level of competition changes Tuesday when they travel to Lexington, Ky., to play Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars.
Colorado: The Buffs are going to be contenders in the Pac 12, as evidenced by their big home win over Kansas even if it did end on a heave at the buzzer where the shooter probably walked. They also beat Harvard at home, so it doesn’t look like many teams will be winning in Boulder. Their only loss was to Baylor in Dallas.
George Washington: The Colonials had a huge 77-75 victory over Maryland Sunday that counts a lot extra in the minds of Washington, D.C. basketball fans. That result was practically unthinkable before the season started. GW is 7-1 with the only loss coming against Marquette in the Wooden Legacy. Suddenly, they’re a factor in the Atlantic 10 and the NCAA at-large competition. Next up is BU at the Smith Center in Washington.
Missouri: Most MIzzou fans were paying attention to the SEC football championship, which ended badly for Tigers fans. Earlier Saturday the Missouri basketball team beat UCLA 80-71 and is now 9-0. It was an impressive comeback and victory. I believe the Tigers are rising, but they won’t play their first true road game until they travel to NC State on Dec. 28. Good scheduling. The team also played without head coach Frank Haith for five games because he was suspended for his actions with a booster at Miami.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are 8-1, with the only loss to Michigan State. Lon Kruger is a great coach and has won everywhere – Kansas State, Florida, Illinois, UNLV. Heck, he even won 20 games at Texas Pan American. This is his third season at Oklahoma and it looks like he’s going to make them a regular in the NCAA Tournament.
Bradley: What would Hersey Hawkins think? This once-proud program is not doing well. The Braves lost to IUPUI 72-66 in Peoria last week and followed that up with another loss at Milwaukee. At 5-4 against a weak out-of-conference schedule, things can only get worse in the Missouri Valley.
Cornell: Steve Donahue probably thinks he has it bad at BC but his former team is 0-10 this season after losing at home to St. Francis of Pennsylvania Saturday.
Houston: I wrote about the sad tale of Houston basketball last week and things have only gotten worse with losses to Texas A&M and San Jose State (at the dreary Hofheinz Pavilion). The Cougars have lost four of their last five.
Marquette: The Fighin’ McGuires have been winning the easy ones and losing the challenging ones, including the last two to San Diego State and Wisconsin and are now 5-4.
Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks had as bad a week as a Philly team could have, losing to Temple in a close one and then getting vaporized by Villanova 98-68 on their home court.
This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. The Shockers remain undefeated. I’ve got to figure they’ll lose one or two in conference play, but before that there’s not a major threat. The most difficult is a road game at Alabama.
This week’s Final Four: Michigan State, Louisville, Arizona, Oklahoma State
This week’s national champion: Michigan State
GAMES I”M LOOKING FORWARD TO SEEING THIS WEEKEND: The schedule has a lot of unexpected non-conference games and some interesting rivalries. It should be interesting.
LaSalle at Stony Brook: A dangerous road game for the Explorers, who have underachieved this year. I’d be surprised if it wasn’t close.
Texas at Temple: Texas is a LOT better than I thought they’d be; Temple’s improving. Result could tell us a lot.
UCLA at Missouri: The Bruins are undefeated under Steve Alford. Of course, this is their first road trip.
Fordham at St. John’s: A rivalry that’s not a rivalry, Fordham never wins, but the Rams look at least slightly improved this season.
BYU at UMass: Let’s hope both teams score 100; this should be an exciting, run-and-gun affair.
Clemson at Arkansas: An unusual road game for Clemson, traveling to Fayetteville, a very tough place to play. A victory would bring huge at-large bid currency.
Long Beach at NC State: The Wolfpack have rebounded from a tough start; can’t let down against an unusual opponent from the other coast.
Marquette at Wisconsin: An obvious rivalry and both teams are good this season, much at stake for both.
Kansas at Colorado: An old Big 12 matchup; it’s another unusual road trip. Kansas doesn’t have to do this. Big opportunity for Colorado to make another impression (beating Harvard was the first one). Kansas very talented but still developing.
Delaware at Notre Dame: Blue Hens coach Monte Ross needs a landmark victory; this is his chance. ND’s Mike Brey used to coach at Delaware.
Cincinnati at New Mexico: Yet, another unusual non-conference game. Cincy is 7-0 but hasn’t really been challenged yet. Playing in The Pit is about as challenging as it gets. New Mexico was disappointing in the Charleston Tournament and can regain some prestige with a win.
Virginia at Green Bay: Virginia coach Tony Bennett takes his team to his alma mater. I would never have expected that. Green Bay’s decent, so the Cavs better be ready.
Villanova at Saint Joseph’s: The most heated rivalry in the Big 5; it’s usually a close one. Sometimes strange things happen.
UNC Greensboro at North Carolina: The win one/lose one Tar Heels are ready for a letdown. Can’t happen, right?
Oral Roberts at Wichita State: Shockers should win, but Oral Roberts is always well prepared under coach Scott Sutton.
Dayton at Illinois State: The Flyers are having a great year, but I think this is a dangerous road trip.
Drake at Iowa: State championship implications.
New Mexico State at Gonzaga: Zags rarely lose at The Kennel, but New Mexico State’s a decent unit.
Oklahoma vs. George Mason: The first of a good doubleheader in Washington, D.C. Oklahoma’s a sleeper. Mason has been disappointing, but could use this as a launching pad.
Old Dominion at VCU: These are old rivals, feelings run deep.
Washington at San Diego State: The Aztecs always play hard, but there’s an extra benefit to beating a Pac 12 team.
Maryland vs. George Washington: Game 2 in DC; I’m thinking three overtimes, it should be an emotional, physical game. GW has many admirers, a victory would add to them.
Oregon at Mississippi: Yet another unusual road trip. Oregon rarely ventures East (OK, it’s not completely East). Marshall Henderson, Old Miss’ pyscho-guard, is always entertaining to watch.
Boston College at Southern Cal: The Eagles NEED this badly. Go strong or go home.
Seton Hall at Rutgers: This is a bitter rivalry. Chances are it will be a close game.
I was in Houston this weekend and attended the Houston-Texas A&M Corpus Christi game, and as I entered the building, I couldn’t help but notice the first H on the arena sign was partially worn away. Inside, an uninspired crowd of few hundred looked even smaller in the 8,479-seat arena.
The Cougars struggled but were able to pull out a victory. This was the place where Phi Slamma Jamma played, Hakeem Olajuwon, Clyde Drexler. Their numbers, along with Elvin Hayes’ and a tribute banner to Hall of Fame coach Guy Lewis, hang in the arena. The celebration of these great teams and players seemed strangely muted.
Unfortunately, players like that will never play for Houston again. The Cougars are mostly a victim of conference realignment, no longer a destination for highly skilled players. A sad fact, and I missed the excitement.
Fairleigh Dickinson: The Knights were one of the worst teams in the US two years ago. They may have lost to Arizona by 50; they may have lost to Division 2 power Metro State, but there is a celebration going on in Teaneck, N.J. because they pulled off a rare double, upsetting Rutgers and Seton Hall in consecutive games. That never happens. They can’t claim the state title, however, because they lost to St. Peter’s. Princeton is on the schedule in a few weeks.
Illinois: The Fighting Illini have only played one game outside of Champaign, but that was a victory at UNLV. They’ve won six home games and are 7-0.
Syracuse: Jim Boeheim rarely takes his team on the road in November, but he did this season and the Orange won the Maui Classic. OK, it was neutral-site games, but it’s still a nice accomplishment. And the Orange are 7-0.
Villanova: The Wildcats are 7-0 and pulled off a great upset of Kansas in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis. Then the ever-pragmatic Jay Wright used five guards at times to overcome an early deficit and beat Iowa in the final. Three Big Five games are dead ahead, and upsets can happen in those.
Wisconsin: The Badgers won the Cancun tournament, beating Saint Louis in the semifinal 63-57 including riding time, and West Virginia 70-6 (including three near falls) in the final. At 8-0, they’re off to the best start under Bo Ryan. The Badgers have not opened the season with eight consecutive wins since starting 11-0 in 1993-94.
Florida Gulf Coast: This week was a rude awakening for the school formerly known as Dunk City as the Eagles were pounded by NC State 82-62 and Iona 90-72.
Murray State: The Racers were almost a guarantee to come out of the OVC for the NCAA Tournament. Not this season, they’re 2-5 and got blasted 80-62 by Middle Tennessee. They followed that up by losing by 25 at Saint Mary’s. They also lost at Auburn last week.
Niagara: The Purple Eagles were always interesting under coach Joe Mahalich. Under first-year coach Chris Casey, not so much. They were non-competitive against a so-so Penn team, losing 85-66 and are now 1-6. Guard Antoine Mason is averaging 31.6 points per game, but he obviously needs more help.
Texas A&M: A stunning bad time in Corpus Christi, Texas, as the Aggies lost consecutive games to Missouri State and SMU on a neutral court.
Xavier: The Muskies should have beaten Iowa in the first round of the Battle 4 Atlantis; they had several chances to win before losing in overtime. They didn’t respond well to adversity, also losing to Southern Cal and Tennessee to finish last in the tournament.
This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. The Shockers showed some great toughness by outmuscling Saint Louis Sunday.
This week’s Final Four: Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Arizona, Louisville. Arizona’s victory over Duke in the Tip-off NIT final was one of the most impressive of the season.
This week’s national champion: Michigan State
Duke vs. Arizona at MSG: Two of the three anointed freshmen, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Arizona’s Aaron Gordon, meet.
Northeastern at VCU: The Rams haven’t been playing well; NU has been surprising, would be a great win for the Huskies.
SMU vs. Virginia in Corpus Christi, Texas: I keep hearing SMU is really good, I’ve got to see myself. Virginia projects to be on the bubble, can’t afford a loss here.
Florida State at Florida: Great rivalry game.
San Diego State vs. Creighton in Anaheim: This is a matchup you don’t see often; it’s the blessing of these early-season tournaments. Both teams project into the tournament.
Green Bay vs. Harvard in Alaska: OK, I’ll never make it, I’ll fall asleep. Harvard needs to pay attention and bring home the Great Alaska Shootout title.
Pitt at Duquesne: Pitt should win easily but it’s still a city rivalry and I want to see if that’s enough to make this close.
Rhode Island at George Mason: I want to see how much Danny Hurley’s URI team has improved.
Wichita State at Saint Louis: Two of the best defensive teams in the country; should be tense, half-court basketball.
VCU at Belmont: The opposite of the game listed above; this will be two teams running, pressing and chucking up threes.
Kentucky vs. Providence in Brooklyn: The Friars can win this game; big resume builder.
Hoosiers point guard Yogi Ferrell looks like he’s improved his outside shot. And obviously the defense is still there. I really liked Indiana’s freshman center Noah Vonleh (6-10, 240) who’s from Haverhill and played at New Hampton School. He’s going to be tremendous, very quick, great footwork, quick leaper too.
For all the hype Nerlens Noel got coming out of Greater Boston, Vonleh already has more offensive skills than the 76ers’ first-round draft choice. He doesn’t appear to be the natural shot blocker Noel is, but I’ll take him anytime on the offensive end. Indiana starts three freshmen, so there will be some tough days, but they’re going to be good sooner rather than later.
-- Illinois beating UNLV 61-59 on The Strip, nice road win.
-- Pitt manhandling Stanford 88-67, an assertive victory. Take that weak stuff back to the West Coast.
-- Wisconsin out-muscling Saint Louis 63-57 in the ballroom in Cancun. This was arm-wresting basketball at its best.
-- Fordham beating Manhattan 79-75. This is a big rivalry; the schools are not far from each other in the Bronx. WAIT. Manhattan College is in the Bronx? Yes.
-- NC State 82, Florida Gulf Coast 62: The Wolfpack needed this one. Gulf Coast getting humble fast.
-- Princeton beating George Mason 71-66. Maybe the Tigers are good enough to give Harvard some trouble.
-- Mount St. Mary’s beating Bucknell 69-64. On a small level, a huge upset.
-- BC sleepwalking for most of the game before beating Sacred Heart in overtime 75-67. Bobby V was not at the game. The Eagles need to find some passion, as analyst Danya Abrams said on the radio. I was impressed Danya told it like it was.
-- Dayton falling to Baylor 67-66 in Maui. It was really hurts, could have been a big win. Ouch, ouch, ouch. You know I feel for the best college basketball fans in the land.
-- Rutgers losing at home to FDU 73-72. Hopefully, it can’t get any worse for the Scarlet Knights because this is pretty bad.
-- Niagara losing to Penn 85-66. Purple Eagles lost coach Joe Milhalich to Hofstra and things have taken a turn for the worse.
-- Murray State getting crushed by Middle Tennessee 80-62. The Racers are ALWAYS good but maybe not this season.
I wrote that Harvard was the best team in that tournament and its first-round opponent, Denver, was the second best. I’ll take that back. Indiana State, in the other bracket, is the second-best team (made that judgment after seeing both play). The Crimson need to be ready for Denver, but they should prevail.
Meanwhile, UMass firmly established its NCAA credentials already after winning its first six games. That’s not all. It’s not a foregone conclusion, but Boston University could win the Patriot League and Vermont could win America East. It wouldn’t be an huge upset if Northeastern won the CAA. Heck, let’s hope BC plays the rest of the season like it did against Washington Friday night and you never know what could happen.
REVISED: Tenspro2012 is correct, UConn belongs on this list. Just an oversight. The Huskies are off to a great start especially with two victories in New York last week.
Five rising (actually six because I’m going to put UMass in for the second straight week):
Arizona State: The Sun Devils are 5-0 for the first time since 1985 as point guard Jahii Carson is emerging as one of the top point guards in the nation.
Charlotte: The 49ers have been classified as a bottom-half Atlantic 10 team the last few years. The school moved to Conference USA for football reasons. Theoretically, basketball should benefit from the softer competition and that might be the case as the 49ers pulled off a shocker by winning the Puerto Rico Shootout, beating Kansas State, Northeastern and Michigan.
UMass: Two weeks in a row the Minutemen make this list after winning three straight impressive games to win the Charleston Classic. UMass beat Nebraska, New Mexico, and Clemson. This is an NCAA tournament team that should be ranked this week.
Providence: The Friars are 6-0 for the first time since 1990-91 when Rick Barnes was the coach. They’re in the final of the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Island Monday night after outstanding victories over Vanderbilt and LaSalle.
Iowa State: The Cyclones are 4-0 and had a big week with a victory over Michigan in Ames and then a surprising road win over BYU in Provo.
Toledo: When the Rockets beat BC I thought it was a bad loss for the Eagles, but after winning at Detroit Saturday and beating Florida Atlantic Sunday, Toledo is now 6-0, its best start since 2003-2004 season.
Georgia: Expectations are low for the Bulldogs and they’ve lived down to that so far. They finished last in the Puerto Rico Shootout, losing to Davidson, Temple and Nebraska.
Maine: The Black Bears are 1*-3 and sinfully lost a home game to NJIT. The other two losses were non-competitive games vs. Rhode Island and George Washington. The win against Fisher, an NAIA school, doesn’t really count.
Miami of Ohio: A once-proud program looks like it has hit rock bottom. The Fightin’ Szczerbiaks are 0-4 and lost to Wilmington 65-63 Saturday. Wilmington, founded by Quakers, has enrollment of 1,435. It’s been ugly when facing legit teams – like a 90-54 loss to Arizona State and a 77-51 loss to Xavier.
Rutgers: Mike Rice is gone but Rutgers still has other problems with possible coaching abuse in football and a new AD under fire for not telling the truth. New basketball coach Eddie Jordan is going to need time. That’s obvious when the Knights lost consecutive home games to Drexel and William & Mary last week.
Virginia Commonwealth: The hype is always high around the Rams, but they were humbled in the Puerto Rico Shootout, getting blown off the court by Florida State in the first round and then losing a second game when Georgetown out-executed them down the stretch.
The week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State.
The week’s Final Four: Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Louisville, Arizona. Arizona replaces VCU. Michigan State is the only team I'm really confident about with Okie State second. Louisville couldn't handle North Carolina's size and lost to the Heels on Sunday. That's troubling.
This week’s national champion: Michigan State
Games I’m looking forward to this weekend:
Boise State at New Orleans: Not sure how many opportunities I’ll get to see Boise, which is an NCAA-caliber team. Looking for an early evaluation.
Tulsa at Creighton: Good comparison game. Wichita State struggled early, then overwhelmed Tulsa earlier this week. Let’s see what Creighton does. Always like to watch Doug McDermott play (I don’t care what the NBA scouts think or say).
Bowling Green at Saint Louis: Saint Looie should be near the top of the A-10 and should win this nonconference game.
Oral Roberts at Wisconsin: I need to get another look at the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky, a 7-footer who scored 43 points earlier this week.
Oklahoma vs. Michigan State in Brooklyn: Both need to win Friday night but I’m expecting that. If Seton Hall upsets Oklahoma, then I’m even more inclined to tune in and root the Pirates home for an upset.
Harvard at Colorado: This is a big one for the Crimson if they’re going to go undefeated.
Puerto Rico tip-off final: I’m expecting this to be Northeastern against either Florida State (which smoked VCU Thursday night) vs. Michigan.
Charleston Classic final: Hoping UMass is in this and winning it; then there can be talk of cracking the Top 25.
Harvard unbeaten countdown: The Crimson are now 4-0 after consecutive takedowns of Howard and Bryant. Next comes one of the most difficult hurdles, a Sunday game at Colorado. The Buffs are 4-1 with the only loss coming against Baylor in Dallas. They were 12-3 at home last season.
Shock value: Watched most of Wichita State’s 77-54 victory over Tulsa. This was close for a long time, but the Wheat Shockers needed just a few quick strikes to take charge of the game. Not sure I’m ready to put them in the Final Four again, but they played like they’re supposed to (at least in the second half). My other impression: Danny Manning has the makings of a good coach for Tulsa.
Dayton 82, Georgia Tech 72: This is good for the best college basketball fans in the country on two levels. The Flyers won on the road (and they haven’t been good away from the UD Arena), plus they beat former coach Brian Gregory. He couldn’t have been too happy.
Evansville 100, Valparaiso 92: The Purple Aces are 4-0 and actually led this by 25 at halftime. Really good home win.
Iowa State 90, BYU 88: This must have been entertaining. It’s the second big win of the season for Iowa State, which beat Michigan in Ames earlier this week. This one was in Provo, and had some late dramatics as Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim made an obscene gesture to the crowd after fouling out.
North Carolina Central 82, NC State 72 in OT: It was around this time last season that Jim O’Connell, the great basketball writer for the Associated Press, told a few people privately the NC Central was really good. They did have a great season but Norfolk State was unbeatable in the MEAC. This could be Central’s year. Who knows? Maybe the best team the school has had since Celtics great Sam Jones played there.
They played smart, tough basketball and deserved to win. Point guard Jeremy Ingram is a tremendous player who can play anywhere. Now that I’m done gushing about NC Central, I have to say it looks like a long year for NC State. They have some talent but there was an extreme lack of offensive cohesion and Central was able to get open shots easily.
Belmont 94, Lipscomb 64: Now you know Belmont just won at North Carolina, so a victory was expected, but this is really embarrassing for Lipscomb. You can walk from one campus to the other in Nashville, so it’s a big local rivalry. Horrible result for the losers.
Empirically, I can’t prove scoring is up this season in college basketball. Even if it is, you could argue that it’s because of so many fouls being called with the effort to reduce hand-checking by defenders. There are some interesting offensive things happening, however.
How about Arizona State sophomore guard Jahii Carson? He scored 40 points Tuesday night as Arizona State beat UNLV 86-80 in Vegas.
Then Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky scored 43 points in the Badgers’ 103-85 win over North Dakota.
Finally, the nation’s best player proved his credentials when Marcus Smart scored 39 as Oklahoma State routed Memphis 101-80. For a stretch in the first half, Smart simply overwhelmed Memphis himself as the Cowboys ended the game early. He swished several long-range three-pointers and that appears to be the part of his game that has improved the most. Otherwise, he had his usual well-rounded game with five steals, four assists and four rebounds.
Assessing Tuesday night:
-- Okie State tops the list, totally blasting Memphis in Stillwater.
-- Butler beating Vanderbilt at Hinkle.
-- Drexel over Rutgers 70-59 to reach the preseason NIT semifinals at MSG.
-- LaSalle, last year’s NCAA darling, lost at Penn State (and earlier this season lost at home to Manhattan)
-- St. Bonaventure falling to Siena in Albany.
-- James Madison losing at home to Detroit. After a great run to the NCAA tournament, JamMad is struggling, especially without suspended guard Andre Nation.
Crediting for hanging tough:
-- East Carolina played Duke to a standstill for a while but faded at the end.
-- Bucknell led most of the way at St. John’s, but the Johnnies' athletes eventually prevailed.
All the tanking talk with the Celtics and the superstar anointing of freshman players who are talented but unproved is pretty much driving me nuts.
Remember this: The best player in the college basketball is Marcus Smart of Oklahoma State, an unselfish, all-around player who’s a leader. This is the player any NBA team who has the top pick in June should draft. And maybe Doug McDermott won't fit the NBA "model'' of what makes a good player, but he was tremendous Saturday night in a victory at Saint Joseph's. As Bill Raftery would say, he was onions as he hit the game-winner with four seconds left. I'll take him anytime.
The new rules seem to be gradually working; fouling seems to be down. The absolutely BEST PART is that there are far fewer offensive fouls. That’s really improved the game.
Back to business. On Mondays, we’ll tell who’s playing well (five rising), who’s not (five falling) and starting predicting this year’s Final Four and national champion.
Brigham Young: I like the Cougars because they play uptempo basketball, and they’ve been doing it very well in winning their first four games, averaging 96 points per game while beating Weber State, Stanford, Mount St. Mary’s and Colorado Mesa (OK, that’s a game we could do without). The most impressive win was the 112-103 victory at Stanford. Leading scorer Tyler Haws has only played two games but is averaging 29 ppg. BYU’s Anson Winder told reporters this after the win over Mount St. Mary’s: “Coach wants us to score as many points as possible. Whether it’s 100 or 120 or high 80s or whatever it is, he wants us to score as much as we can each game.’’ Isn’t that refreshing?
Loyola Marymount: The Fightin’ Hank Gathers were 11-23 overall and 1-15 in the WCC last season. Today they’re 4-0 including a win on the road at Long Beach.
UMass: The Minutemen look like an NCAA Tournament team after winning their first three including an impressive one at home against LSU. I still think that win against BC was pretty good, too.
Texas: If you think there have been dire predictions for Texas football it’s even worse for basketball but the Longhorns have won their first three. Admittedly, it was three home games but the victories over Mercer, South Alabama and Stephen F. Austin are all decent.
Utah State: Aggies’ coach Stew Morrill has been criticized for playing poor schedules, but this season his team is 3-0 with victories over Southern Cal at home and UC Santa Barbara on the road.
Auburn: It continues to be a struggle for former UMass star Tony Barbee. The Tigers lost at home to Northwestern State of Louisiana 111-92 and gave up 72 -- 72!!!! -- points in the second half.
Duquesne: This could be a really bad season for second-year coach Jim Ferry. A home loss to New Hampshire is pretty much inexcusable. They were competitive against West Virginia Sunday but suffered another loss.
Marquette: The Fighting’ McGuires were a total disaster when faced with a big-time, non-league opponent at home Saturday. They lost to Ohio State, 52-35, and set back basketball 70 years with their offensive stats, 10 of 53 from the field and 1 of 18 on three-pointers.
Temple: This might be a rare off season for the Owls, who lost at home to Kent State then actually played a road game at Towson and lost that one too. It is possible that Kent (MAC) and Towson (CAA) could be NCAA teams.
Washington: The Huskies lost a home game to UC Irvine; then struggled mightily against Eastern Washington Sunday before finally winning. Coach Lorenzo Romar played five guards at time. He’s obviously seeking answers.
This week’s George Mason (best mid-major): Wichita State. The Shockers are 4-0 after coming off their Final Four season.
This week’s Final Four: Michigan State, Louisville, Oklahoma State, Virginia Commonwealth. I guarantee this is going to change a lot this season.
This week’s national champion: Michigan State
Games I’m looking forward to seeing this weekend:
Florida Gulf Coast at Furman: I’m still fascinated by the Dunk City story line and how new coach Joe Dooley, formerly Bill Self’s assistant at Kansas, handles his new team.
Lehigh at Fordham: I actually think Fordham might be decent this season. It’s the Rams chance to prove me right.
UTEP at New Mexico State: One of the great hidden rivalries in the US. Never in the same conference, these schools still play twice a season.
St. Francis of New York at Dayton: I want to see if the best college basketball fans in the country will turn out even for this matchup.
Ohio State at Marquette: In this day and age it’s an unusual matchup between two potentially good teams that’s not played at some resort in warm weather or on a neutral court coordinated by ESPN. Winning in Milwaukee would be very good for the Buckeyes.
Creighton at Saint Joseph’s: Despite all the hype about the freshman, one of the two best players in the country is Creighton’s Doug McDermott (Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart is the other). McDermott could get a difficult test in Philly.
USC Upstate at Tennessee: Both are off to weird starts. Upstate, one of the favorites in the Atlantic Sun, won at Virginia Tech then lost at Winthrop. Tennessee, seen as a team on the uptick, lost its opener at Xavier. Imagine the feeling in Knoxville is the Vols lost this one. Upstate can prove it’s an NCAA tournament team.
Princeton at Butler: Let’s see what Butler’s up to without Brad Stevens.
Stanford at Denver: Are the Cardinal finally going to get over the hump and actually be a contender in the Pac 12? This is a tougher game than it seems.
Belmont at North Carolina: This Belmont team isn’t as good as last season’s but the Bruins could make it interesting for a while.
Duquesne at West Virginia: The Dukes appear to be awful so this might end quickly but there’s a little bit of a rivalry here too.
Louisiana Lafayette at Baylor: I’m interested in how Baylor has remade itself.
Towson at Villanova: Saw Towson beat Temple Thursday night, Villanova better be ready to play.
Oregon State at Maryland: A rare cross-country trip for the Beavers. Wonder if Obama will show up to see his brother-in-law coach?
Florida Atlantic at Boston College: Eagles will finally get a W. They’re better than 0-3.
Oakland at Gonzaga: I’ll admit it; I have affection for the Zags, got check it out.
About last night:
I was focused solely on the Michigan State-Kentucky game. Kentucky was the more talented team but you know who won: Michigan State, 78-74. Coach Cal and the Wildcats -- from now on I’ll refer to them as Bingo Long and the Traveling All-Stars -- played like an AAU team on Thursday morning in a July tournament in Vegas. Cal has become Leo Papile in a suit instead of sweats. I know Kentucky’s going to be good because Jay Bilas told me so -- about 200 TIMES. He failed to point out how the present one-and-down philosophy of Cal makes for bad basketball. In the end, team play won and that’s a victory for the sport of basketball.
THIS IS AN ANTI-TANKING ZONE: Any talk of the Celtics (or any other team) sacrificing an entire season while their fans pay astronomical amounts for tickets and cable TV won’t be tolerated around here. What’s the point of doing it? So they can draft someone like Jerome Randle of Kentucky? He had 27 points and 13 rebounds against Michigan State. He was tremendous, a beast in the paint. But what is he really? Al Jefferson? Maybe? Is that worth sacrificing an entire season? I know Brad Stevens agrees with me. I think he does anyway.
No one goes undefeated in college basketball anymore. It’s just not going to happen; they will never again be an undefeated national champion. There is still a chance, however, for a team to reach the NCAA Tournament without losing a game. In fact, there’s a team that could do it this season. This team plays its home games in a 2,195-seat gym called a pavilion. I’m talking about Harvard.
Tommy Amaker’s team has four starters returning and also benefits from the return of forward Kyle Casey and point guard Brandyn Curry, who had to sit out last season as part of a school-wide academic scandal. Casey will merely be the best player in the Ivy League. Forward Wesley Saunders was all-league last season and also returns. Siyani Chambers who replaced Curry at point guard grew up quickly and could improve more. There’s more including top-notch shooter Laurent Rivard. Plus there’s a freshman -- 6-9 Zena Edosomwan -- who could make an impact.
There will be no stopping the Crimson in the Ivy League. There may be no stopping them at all. Thirty and oh is possible. This season’s schedule is not as difficult as last season. There are some obvious tough spots. Who do you think would beat them?
The possible losses:
- At Colorado: The Buffs are no pushover, that’s for sure, but still a winnable game.
- Denver in the Great Alaska Shootout: Incredibly, this first-round game is a meeting of the two best teams in the tournament.
- Vermont: The Catamounts are a veteran team.
- Boston College: The game is at the Pavilion. Steve Donahue is such a nice guy to play there.
- At UConn: This is the toughest one, the Crimson need to play their best game.
The rest of the non-conference schedule is conquerable especially consecutive games against ESPN writer Howard Bryant.
(The Crimson face Howard Nov. 15 and then Bryant Nov. 20.)
Starting Jan. 11, it’s all Ivy League and there’s no one the Crimson should lose to in the league. If they enter the Ivy League without loss, they’re going to do it.
The World Series had me transfixed. I’m endlessly fascinated by the Patriots. The Bruins do have me wondering about how good they can really be and the Celtics ... well ... I feel sorry for Brad Stevens.
Because of all that I’m not really ready for the start of college basketball which tips off Friday. I’m hyped for the BC-Providence game at the Dunk on Friday night especially since we have a new great announcing team -- Gus Johnson and Bill Raftery -- doing the game for Fox. Here’s my first prediction: BC will win. I think this is going to be a good season for the Eagles and coach Steve Donahue. I really respect how Donahue has put together a challenging schedule, Providence, UMass, UConn, Indiana or Washington in the second game of a tournament, Purdue, Southern Cal, VCU, Harvard plus all the ACC games which now include Syracuse and Pitt.
In fact, I think BC will be in the NCAA tournament. Here’s the rest of the field in the annual Sully’s Court dart-throwing contest, picking the NCAA Tournament field before play begins.
AAC (5): Louisville, UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati, SMU
ACC (5): Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, Virginia, Boston College
Atlantic 10 (5): VCU, Saint Louis, LaSalle, UMass, Saint Joseph’s
Big East (5): Creighton, Marquette, Georgetown, St. John’s, Xavier
Big Ten (7): Michigan State, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois
Big 12 (3): Kansas, Oklahoma State, Baylor.
Mountain West (4): New Mexico, San Diego State, Boise State, UNLV
Pac 12 (6): Arizona, Oregon, Colorado, UCLA, Cal, Stanford
SEC (4): Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas
WCC (2): Gonzaga, BYU
One-bid leagues (22)
America East: Vermont
Atlantic Sun: Florida Gulf Coast
Big Sky: Weber State
Big South: Coastal Carolina
Big West: Cal State Northridge
Conference USA: Louisiana Tech
Horizon: Cleveland State
MEAC: Morgan State
Missouri Valley: Wichita State
OVC: Eastern Kentucky
Southland: Oral Roberts
SWAC: Texas Southern
Sun Belt: Georgia State
WAC: New Mexico State
For the first time in two years, the ice will return to Fenway Park for the 2014 Citi Frozen Fenway, which features a pair of Division 1 college hockey doubleheaders.
Tickets for the games will be available to the general public on Friday, Sept. 6, at noon, the City of Boston, Hockey East, and Fenway Sports Management announced Friday.
Alumni, students. and supporters from participating schools can take advantage of a special pre-sale opportunity beginning today, and can purchase tickets at redsox.com/frozenfenway.
The schedule is as follows:
Saturday, Jan. 4
Merrimack vs. Providence College, 4 p.m.
Notre Dame vs. Boston College, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Jan. 11
UMass-Lowell vs. Northeastern, 3 p.m.
Maine vs. Boston University, 6:30 p.m.
Tickets for the doubleheaders will be available at redsox.com/frozenfenway or by calling (877) RED-SOX9. Patrons who require accessible seating may call (877) RED-SOX9. The Red Sox' TTY number for hearing-impaired fans is (617) 226-6644. Tickets start as low as $5 and will be valid for both games of the doubleheader.
The doubleheaders highlight a two-week series of outdoor hockey and ice skating events at Fenway Park, which starts Dec. 28 and runs through Jan. 13.
Boston College football coach Steve Addazio conducted his first press luncheon of the 2013 season Monday and announced that senior right tackle Ian White and senior defensive end Kasim Edebali had been voted team cocaptains.
"Ian’s a strong, hard-playing, passionate player," said Addazio. "He’s a good strong leader. Kasim is a guy with tremendous work ethic. I think the players, they recognize that, they see that.
"I think those are both guys who work real hard and do the right thing and I think they’re both good representatives of BC football.''
Edebali said he and White learned the news from Addazio at a team meeting Sunday.
"It was just a real humbling experience,'' Edebali said. "I love everyone, all the guys in that room. It's my fifth year now and they're looking up to me and saying, 'We want you to be the guy we follow when it's crunch time,' so it means a lot.''
While offensive coordinator Ryan Day said he was interested to see how quarterback Chase Rettig asserted his leadership this season, beginning with Saturday's opener against Villanova at Alumni Stadium, it was interesting to note that he was not selected as a captain.
Rettig has been BC's starting QB the last 3 1/2 seasons.
To be fair, though, senior linebackers Steele Divitto and Kevin Pierre-Louis, who are expected to be linchpins of defensive coordinator Don Brown's "organized chaos'' scheme, were also not voted captains. Neither was senior receiver Alex Amidon, who was an All-ACC first-team selection last season after making 78 receptions for 1,215 yards and 7 touchdowns.
"So we had two captains, and they were the two who were elected, and they are the two who are going to go about the business of leading the team,'' Addazio said. "But we also talked about the fact that Chase is really emerging as a leader and so are guys like KPL, Alex Amidon, and Steele. We've got a lot of guys.
"Although two guys have the title of captain, those [other] guys need to be great leaders, and that's the challenge. When you have overall leadership, that's when you're good. When it's a one- or two-person committee, then it's usually not very good.''
Asked his impression of the new captains, Amidon said, "I think it's awesome. Both are great guys and good leaders. It reflects who the team wants as leaders -- two linemen, two big guys, so it's good. I just know we have two great leaders on the team."
In other news:
- Addazio said Al Louis-Jean Jr., a sophomore defensive back from Brockton, would miss Saturday's opener because of an unspecified violation of team rules. The coach said Louis-Jean would be available for the ACC opener the following Saturday against Wake Forest.
- The status of backup quarterback Josh Bordner remained up in the air. Bordner, a sophomore from Sykesville, Md., missed a significant portion of camp after injuring his left knee, but returned in time for the final week of preparation. "He took some snaps, non-contact, and threw the football,'' Addazio said. "I'd think he'd be a question mark for the game on Saturday at this point, but [he's] certainly headed in the right direction.''
- As his reward for devouring much of the repetitions in camp, sophomore Dave Dudeck was listed as Andre Williams's backup at running back on the two-deep roster. Dudeck, of Princeton, N.J., earned raves from Addazio for his indefatigable effort. "I really like who he is,'' Addazio said. "He's a scrappy battler.'' In addition to his role as Williams's backup, Dudeck also took reps at slot receiver and on the punt- and kick-return teams. "He's really one of those guys who's an accountable guy,'' Addazio said. "Who can come out of camp and not feel great about David Dudeck?''
- Among the other surprises, Addazio cited the transformation of linebacker Bobby Wolford into a fullback; the emergence of 6-5 sophomore Dan Crimmins as a starting wide receiver; the steady play of 6-9 junior defensive end Brian Mihalik as Kaleb Ramsey's backup; and the emergence of explosive junior linebacker Josh Keyes and sophomore linebacker Steven Daniels on the defensive front seven.
- Addazio lit into his team after wrapping up Monday morning's practice at Shea Field. With only three workdays left before the opener, Addazio was not pleased with the mistakes and lack of intensity. "Perfect practice equals perfect play,'' Addazio said. "If you think you're just going to get it on Saturday because you want to, it won't happen. You've got to press play, see it on the video, then you know you're ready. You know you're ready when it's clean. If you're not clean, then you're rolling the dice a little bit. There was too many mistakes. I didn't think there was enough intensity.
"Sometimes this happens when you get to the end of camp and the monotony of the whole thing and the lack of playing another opponent, all those are plausible reasons.
"But, at the end of the day, all that matters, we need to press play and see great practice to be assured of the fact that we're going to see great execution on Saturday."
The Sunday showdown at the Garden is part of a tripleheader that will also include Boston University-Northeastern and Harvard-Holy Cross, a must-see for college hoop followers.
That's just the start of a challenging 31-game regular-season slate for Steve Donahue and his Eagles that features the traditional Atlantic Coast Conference matchups, including newcomers Notre Dame and Syracuse.
But the Eagles (16-17 a year ago) will also take on Connecticut for the first time since 2005, facing the Huskies at Madison Square Garden in the championship round of the 2K Sports Classic Nov. 21, which benefits the Wounded Warrior Project.
BC takes on Virginia Commonwealth in the Brooklyn Hoops Winter Festival Saturday, Dec. 28, and then crosses the Charles to take on Harvard, likely a preseason Top 25 squad, on New Year's Day.
The home opener at Conte Forum is Thursday, Nov. 14, against Toledo, in the first round of the 2K Sports Classic.
The Eagles will host just four non-conference games, their lowest total since the 1996-97 season.
Patrick Sibley, a 21-year-old former volleyball star at Natick High, died early Sunday morning when he was struck by a train outside Washington D.C, according to Washington transit authorities and George Mason University, where Sibley was a student.
Sibley was entering his senior year at George Mason, where the 6-foot-8 middle blocker earned all-conference honors a year ago.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority reported that "a 21 year old, white male from Massachusetts." was struck and killed by an inbound Orange Line train shortly before 2 a.m while walking on tracks between the East Falls Church and Ballston Stations in Arlington, Va. Transit officials said the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
George Mason confirmed that Sibley was the individual who was killed in the accident, which is still being investigated.
"The Mason community is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Patrick Sibley," said George Mason athletic director Tom O'Connor in a statement.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family, his friends, teammates, and all who are affected by this tragedy."
His older brother, Shaun, a 6-9 middle blocker, was a four-year varsity player at George Mason before graduating in May.
Patrick Sibley was a key contributor to Natick's 2007 state title team as a freshman under coach Peter Suxho, which feature Shaun, then a senior.
Patrick, a 2010 Natick High graduate, started his college career at Sacred Heart University, but transferred to George Mason,the following year. He sat out the 2012 season per NCAA transfer rules, but burst onto the scene in his first season as a Patriot in 2013, where he was named to the All-Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association first team. He led George Mason with 77 blocks and was second in services aces with 21.
"Patrick Sibley was a world-class athlete," George Mason head coach Fred Chao said. "In a brief period of time he quickly developed into a dominant volleyball player. However, it was his love for his teammates and friends that shined the brightest."
Peter Suxho, who was the head volleyball coach at Natick for Sibley's entire high school tenure, learned of his shocking passing from a coaching acquaintance Monday morning.
Suxho described Patrick as the type of player who was the first to get to practice and the last to leave, also calling him "one of our best players."
"He was tall for his age," Suxho said. "He had a lot of desire to be like his brother."
Patrick and Shaun played together last season, when the Patriots finished 15-12, capped by a loss to Harvard in the EIVA Tournament semifinals.
"Shaun was a great motor for [Patrick] to become a great player," Suxho said.